In the four centuries since Hamlet was written, there has probably been a bigger fan than Ted van Griethuysen. But he’d undoubtedly make the short list.
At 8 p.m. Friday in Bratton Theater, van Griethuysen, 81, will perform The Play’s the Thing, a one-man reading of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Free tickets will be available at 9 a.m. Friday at the ticketing kiosk located between Bratton Theater and Norton Hall.
The show, which takes its name from a Hamlet quote, is just the most recent event in a life of dedication to Hamlet.
“I think it’s the greatest play ever written,” van Griethuysen said. “And I mean that quite sincerely and not sensationally.”
Over the course of his 65-year professional career, van Griethuysen has played Hamlet twice, as well as Laertes, the Ghost, the First Player, Polonius, Claudius and the Grave Digger. But because of The Play’s the Thing, he’s now able to add every other character to that list.
Van Griethuysen first performed his one-man show at the Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, D.C., two days after his 80th birthday.
“[I thought] 80 is coming up on the horizon and … I’m either gonna be, you know, a blithering idiot by the time I get there, or I’m gonna embrace this and just do it and, you know, show what I can still do at 80,” van Griethuysen said.
He has also performed the show in his home state of Connecticut.
One of the reasons van Griethuysen chose to do the one-man production was because he knew he couldn’t direct Hamlet.
“It wouldn’t be fair to the other actors because I’d be telling them how to read every line,” he said.
In The Play’s the Thing, which is directed by former Chautauqua Theater co-artistic director Ethan McSweeny, van Griethuysen has the chance to read all those lines the way he wants. And that’s probably a good thing, because he’s a little picky with his Hamlets.
“I don’t generally like productions of Hamlet that I’ve seen on the whole,” he said.
He dislikes it when actors portray the character as too angry. In fact, it was partially that frustration that made van Griethuysen vow never to perform the show again in 2007. It didn’t stick.
Much of van Griethuysen’s life and career has been influenced by the teachings and ideas of Eli Siegel, a poet and the founder of the philosophy of Aesthetic Realism. He doesn’t like the term “mentor” and prefers the term “teacher” for Siegel.
He was greatly affected by the ideas presented in Siegel’s work, Hamlet Revisited; Or the Family Should be Poetry, which van Griethuysen would go on to present aloud.
Hamlet Revisited was later reworked into a 13-part production performed by van Griethuysen, along with his wife, actress Rebecca Thompson, and actress Anne Fielding. He studied with Siegel until his death in 1978.
Van Griethuysen hopes to share his views on the show with the audience.
“I would like to see, if I just read the play, can I make what I think about the play clear to people without telling them in advance too much?” he said.
For years, he has called it an injustice that he couldn’t play Hamlet again. Now, with The Play’s the Thing, his age doesn’t matter and he can once again step into his favorite role.
“I think in some ways, I love Hamlet as a person as much as I’ve ever loved any person in this world,” he said.